Undercurrents | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


Here's something new: We have praise for a daily newspaper.

But since this is Undercurrents, we just can't seem to let that stand. We must condemn the paper's publisher. We are speaking of The Miami Herald and Alberto Ibargüen.

It is amazing to see what can happen journalistically when a good newspaper marshals its forces and attacks a story so broad and dramatic in its scope as the Elián snatch by federal officers.

It's like the event wakens a sleeping giant. All hands are on deck during the emergency and work feverishly to produce in 24 hours a mountain of information that is formed by experienced editors and a few quality writers. That's what happened Saturday, April 23, at The Herald.

The results were spread over numerous pages and sections of the Sunday Herald the next day, and certainly the dozens of bylines detailed the diverse effort, yet the totality of their special coverage showed savvy, style, and more than a bit of passion. There was even an "inside story" about passions in the newsroom and ideological differences among reporters.

But there was one inside story missing, the one detailing the involvement of their publisher, Ibargüen, in the Elián negotiations. He became a part of the story yet kept his involvement a secret from his staff. Ibargüen listened to a conference call in his own office between Janet Reno and the lead mediator, attorney Aaron Podhurst. Was he then a newspaper publisher or a partner in the negotiations?

This sort of thing happens all the time at big dailies. The publishers and editors become influential power brokers in a community and protect their interests above those of journalism and their papers. Ibargüen and others on the negotiating team are members of Mesa Redonda, a group of prominent Cuban-American business people. One would then have to question where the publisher's true loyalties lie. The answer came when he kept the information about the phone conference away from his own staff, which was struggling to get the entire story.

South Florida is a dangerous place to walk, and the statistics regarding pedestrian fatalities dramatically point this out. Just last week a homeless man was run over and critically injured on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. Similar accidents seem to occur about once a month.

We all know it's a scary experience to be driving in the city at night on the poorly lit roads and have a pedestrian or bicyclist dart out in front of you. We also notice that, in the poorer sections of town, the street lighting is, well, poorer.

But who's to blame when a jaywalker is stupid enough to walk in traffic outside a crosswalk and gets smashed? The person is, of course, but we also put some of the blame on law enforcement and prosecutors who don't enforce the laws.

We hear that in Fort Lauderdale the word came down from the State Attorney's Office to the police that they wouldn't prosecute violations that had to do with pedestrians. It seems the officers can decide whether to ticket under state law or the municipal ordinance. A Fort Lauderdale police officer says there's no use trying to use the state law, because there won't be a prosecution.

The law's on the books, the police enforce the law, but the prosecutors won't follow through. It's low priority. Think about that the next time you watch television news and see a sheet covering some pedestrian.

Got a tip? Call 954-233-1581, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail [email protected].